‘I THINK we are on to something special’.
Those were the words of Manchester United’s honorary president and former chairman Martin Edwards in September 2017.
Looking back now, they were.
United had one of THE greatest managers in football in Jose Mourinho.
He had just won two trophies in his first season with the club and was starting his second in fine style with a run of ten wins and two draws. They would eventually finish second that term.
Think about that for a moment.
Just 16 months ago United were the second-best team in the country behind near neighbours Manchester City.
A long way behind City, granted, but they were still above Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and all the rest.
When two-time Champions League winner Mourinho claimed that was his greatest-ever achievement, we scoffed.
We now know what he was talking about given what he had at his disposal.
They also got to the FA Cup final that season beating Tottenham in the semi-final when Chris Smalling and Phil Jones did a job on Harry Kane, barely allowing him a shot.
Yes, Mourinho got Jones and Smalling to stop Kane.
MOURINHO WANTED MAGUIRE
How on earth did the club allow themselves to get to a position just over a year later when Mourinho was sacked.
Yes, he is high maintenance. The club knew that when they employed him.
That is part of the package when you get him, what you also get is success.
It seems ridiculous he is now sat in a TV studio, while the club he always had his heart set on managing crumbles.
After just six games of this season the Red Devils are eighth, five points behind second-placed City and TEN behind leaders Liverpool.
It all started to go wrong in the summer of 2018 when Mourinho demanded big money be spent on a centre-back. Harry Maguire was the man he wanted.
But the hierarchy felt £80million was too much and that they already had back up in that department. A year later they spent £85m on Maguire.
FIGHTING BATTLES ON HIS OWN
Mourinho knew what he was talking about.
Undoubtedly he did himself no favours by cutting a miserable figure in his closing months, publicly bemoaning a lack of spending when he had spent plenty and falling out with Paul Pogba.
He believes he was not given enough backing by the club in his battles with the midfielder.
When Pogba won the World Cup with France, Mourinho effectively said it was time he started playing like that for United. He was right, because he never has.
Mourinho was not prepared to indulge a player who, with Alexis Sanchez, was starting to sour the dressing-room atmosphere.
He was left to fight too many battles on his own, particularly after his trusted assistant Rui Faria left in the summer of 2018.
The fans began to get frustrated with him, believing his football was boring and negative.
OLE UP AGAINST IT
There was a feeling when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in that the shackles were off and Mourinho had been holding back a wonderful team.
In truth, he had been holding up a very average team.
When Mourinho left Old Trafford his win percentage was 58.33 per cent. That is second only to Sir Alex Ferguson, just, on 59.67 per cent. He lost just 28 of his 144 games in charge. His win rate in his second season was 66 per cent.
At the start of the 2017-18 season his team scored four goals in six of their first ten games. Yet he was branded boring for the goalless draw at Anfield.
GAINED KLOPP’S RESPECT
It was actually a great result given how well Liverpool were playing at the time.
Mourinho got blamed because the game did not live up to expectations but Reds boss Jurgen Klopp took no risks that night either. Why? Because of who was in the opposition dugout.
If he took off a midfielder and put on an extra striker, he knew Mourinho would then make his move and possibly win the game.
It frustrates Mourinho to be painted as anti-football when you see what he has achieved around Europe.
Listen to some United fans and you would think that every game in the past has been won with swashbuckling football, 5-3 with two scored in injury-time.
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Plenty of the football under Sir Matt and Sir Alex was special, but they were special times and they had special teams.
Mourinho’s United could not compare to those, but he still made the club relevant and competitive.
Now they are not. Now not even West Ham get giddy about beating them.